I am conflicted about using blackout shades in my twins' room.
I'm reluctant to use them because whenever I nap in a dark room in the middle of the day, I wake up feeling cranky and miserable. I don't want that for my girls.
But right now, they never nap on the same schedule and I am going absolutely bonkers. I can never leave the house and I never know when I'll get a break.
Kate, single mom to 11-month-old twins
Kate is an amazingly devoted mom. I admire her tremendously.
We parents should take all the help we can get. It's not cheating to help them nap. It won't make your young children wake up feeling cranky and miserable.
That's because their young bodies have totally different sleep and wake cycles than we do. Babies' bodies are designed to nap during the day. Unlike ours.
When we wake up cranky and miserable after a nap, it's because we have nap inertia. Basically, we are sleeping at a time that our bodies weren't designed to nap. Babies, on the other hand, absolutely need naps during the day.
If babies nap at the biologically ideal times, they won't have nap intertia. For twice-a-day nappers, those times are roughly 9 am and 1 pm. Once-a-day nappers should sleep at around 12 pm.
Just timing naps appropriately can make a huge difference. That's step one. And it's the furthest thing from cheating. It's taking advantage of biological sleep and wake cycles.
Step two is yes, using all the sleep crutches you can find that don't require your active, ongoing participation.
So blackout curtains? Heck, yes! White noise? Absolutely. Fan or air conditioner to keep the room cool and air circulating? Definitely. Swaddle (for newborns) or sleep sack? Sure! Pacifier that you have to reinsert 16 times during the nap? Nope.
Offer the pacifier once and that's it. Either she finds it and re-inserts it herself or she loses it and learns to sleep without it. There may be some tears in the short-term but otherwise, she will never learn to sleep independently (or at least, not until she gives up the pacifier).
The same goes for breastfeeding or bottle feeding to sleep. If your little one can fall asleep and stay asleep, feeding to sleep is fine. But if he needs another nursing session or an additional bottle to link his sleep cycles, you are doing him a disservice. You'll know this is happening if your baby (4 months or older) is waking for multiple feedings every night. By four months, your child should be able to go several hours without feeding, and that should gradually decrease from a maximum of three a night to two to one or less at nine months old. By a year old, most babies should not need any feedings at night.
My five-year-old recently started to give up her nap. The timing feels pretty terrible -- stuck at home for months at a time during a global pandemic -- but I hardly feel like I can complain. Five years of napping is a pretty good run.
But then we tacked up a heavy blanket over an internal window to her room that was letting in a good bit of natural light. Lo and behold, my preschooler is napping again. Gloriously long naps that leave her well-rested and cheerful, a delight to be around.
If this "cheating" means I can avoid the cranky miserable mess she was on the days she missed her naps... I'm a devoted cheater.
But I prefer to think of it as smart parenting. Helping my girl get all the sleep her body needs to be her best.
(Note the white noise on her table, the standing fan pointed at her, and of course, the heavy blanket tacked up over the internal window.)
If you'd like help getting your little one napping better, or need support tackling a different sleep challenge, schedule a free consult so we can get your child, and your entire family, the sleep you deserve.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.